SEE ALSO: Land Rover Buyer's Guide
Britain's Land Rover is one of the most respected manufacturers in the off-road world, and has been making all-terrain- capable vehicles since 1948. The first Land Rovers were functional, spartan vehicles designed for rugged duty far from civilization. At the other end of the comfort spectrum, the original Range Rover, introduced in 1970, was arguably the first luxury sport-utility vehicle.
Descendants of both are still in production today, with the limited-production Defender taking the place of the old Land Rover and the second-generation Range Rover holding forth in the luxury market. But the newest Land Rover product, the Discovery, is the company's best-selling vehicle. Priced to compete in the heart of the sport-utility market, it has brought Land Rover cachet and ability to new customers. Introduced into this country in 1994, the Discovery was responsible for a doubling of Land Rover sales that year, and a further 66 percent increase for 1995. After a week in a top-of-the-line 1997 Discovery SE7, I could understand why.
Like all Land Rover vehicles, the Discovery is first and foremost an off-road machine. A fully boxed and welded frame, rugged long-travel suspension with coil-sprung live axles front and rear, and full-time four-wheel drive see to that. In common with the Range Rover, the Discovery is as fully civilized as it is rugged. With three trim levels - SD, SE, and SE7 - it's not quite at the sumptuous level of the Range Rover, but it compares well to any mere automobile in its price range. Whereas the Range Rover is Lord Greystoke in a tuxedo, the Discovery is more like Tarzan in a dinner jacket - slightly less formal, but no less capable.
APPEARANCE: The Discovery is proof that functional styling does not necessarily lack character. It will not be confused with anything else. Tall, not too wide, reasonably short, and with very little bodywork hanging past the wheels, the Discovery is a maneuverable size for the bush or for traffic. A tall passenger cabin with narrow roof pillars and plenty of glass gives very good visibility. "Alpine windows" curving into the raised rear roof section have been used before, on vintage Land Rover station wagons. The boxy aluminum body is only slightly rounded at the edges and corners, and sits high off the ground on 5-spoke alloy wheels. Character lines on the sides prevent industrial slab-sidedness and add some rigidity.
COMFORT: Unlike the original Land Rover of 1948, doors are no longer optional accessories on the Discovery. The SE7 model, in particular, has all of the comforts of any competitively-priced luxury sedan. It is most definitely British in appointment, with fine leather upholstery and burled walnut trim. Only the heavy-duty rubber floor mats would be out of place in a sedan. Inside, as out, the Discovery follows its own fashion. Some of the switch gear looks dated, but is placed well and works just fine. The climate control system is among the best made, with separate controls not only for left and right, but for the rear seat as well. Power-adjustable front buckets are comfortable for road trips or field expeditions. The 60/40 split bench rear seat is mounted higher for better visibility, and two additional rear jump seats are standard on the SE7 model. These are best-suited for young children with a taste for adventure. The Discovery's interior is light and airy because of the large window area and roof-mounted "Alpine windows", and interesting storage spaces abound. Power windows, mirrors, and locks, and remote keyless entry are standard, as expected in this price class.
SAFETY: Safety equipment includes 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, side-impact beams, and dual air bags.
ROADABILITY: Although a greater percentage of Land Rover owners take their vehicles off-road than is the norm for sport-utility owners, most still use them for everyday transportation. The Discovery is a very capable off-road vehicle; it is also civilized and comfortable around town or on the highway. Because of the high stance and soft, long-travel suspension, there is plenty of body motion. The ride takes some getting used to, but adjustment comes quickly. It's not a sports car, so take it easy in the corners, but rough pavement, potholes, speed bumps, and highway expansion joints are jokes to the Discovery's rugged suspension. An opportunity for some technical off-road use highlighted its off-road capabilities.
PERFORMANCE: The Discovery uses the venerable Rover Group aluminum alloy V8 in 4.0-liter form. Its 182 horsepower and 233 lb-ft of torque are well-suited for the Discovery's mission and character. In civilized territory, keeping up with city and highway traffic is no problem. In the outback, an excellent 4-wheel drive system and the engine's torque combine to make easy work of obstacles. A 4-speed automatic transmission is standard on the SE7, although a 5-speed manual may be ordered by off-road purists.
CONCLUSIONS: In an age of mass-produced luxury transit modules, the Land Rover Discovery is a bastion of British individuality and character.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 38,500 Price As Tested $ 39,765 Engine Type aluminum alloy pushrod overhead valve V8 Engine Size 4.0 liters / 241 cu. in. Horsepower 182 @ 4750 Torque (lb-ft) 233 @ 3000 Transmission 4-speed automatic Wheelbase / Length 100.0 in. / 178.7 in. Curb Weight 4465 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 24.5 Fuel Capacity 23.4 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium Tires P235/70 HR16 Goodyear Eagle GT + 4 Ground clearance 8.1 inches Brakes, front/rear solid disc with 4-piston calipers / solid disc with 2-piston calipers Suspension, front/rear solid axle with single-rate coil springs / solid axle with dual-rate coil springs Drivetrain front engine, full-time four-wheel drive with 2-speed transfer case PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 14/17/15 0 to 60 mph est 11 sec Towing capacity 5500 lbs. on-road, 2200 lbs. off-road in high range 7700 / 2200 in low range OPTIONS AND CHARGES 6-disc CD changer $ 640 Destination charge $ 625